Olivier Todd

Olivier Todd is the author of Albert Camus: A Life.

Mon Charabia: Bad Duras

Olivier Todd, 4 March 1999

For twenty years or so – but particularly after she hit the jackpot with her Goncourt Prize and sold a million copies of her most conventional novel, The Lover (1984) – Marguerite Duras was a literary monster. Her personality and the legends about her have fascinated readers of everything from Elle to the Village Voice. Laure Adler’s biography, the best so far, proves that the required period of mourning is over. Duras produced 73 books and about twenty films; her last posthumous work, No More, is currently available in a chi-chi edition and billed as her ‘raucous salutation welcoming death … a concatenation of words as pure as poetry and as full-throated as a fish-wife’s call.’ ‘I love my gibberish’ (‘mon charabia’), she used to say.’‘

In 1954 I was stationed near Versailles, doing my national service with the 93rd Infantry Regiment. I had been called up for 12 months, but like many young Frenchmen of that unlucky generation, I was kept in the Army nearly two and a half years owing to unforeseen ‘events’ in North Africa. We weren’t old enough to have joined either the Free French in Britain or the Resistance against the Nazis in France. In those easy Manichaean years, not having read Koestler or Orwell, some of us even wished we’d been able to fight with the International Brigades in Spain. We could only nurse our nostalgia, and, as French citizens subject to national service, we were forced to take part in the unsavoury end of the colonial adventure in North Africa. Some of us felt we were involved in the wrong conflict, on the wrong side.‘


Mon Charabia

4 March 1999

I refuse to take sides in the continuing guerrilla between ‘hack’ journalists and hack academic ‘experts’. Dr Udris is entitled to give an opinion and so am I. As a matter of fact, however, I did meet Yann Andréa. Did Duras leave him anything or not? As another matter of fact, I made the inexcusable error of confusing Alain Robbe-Grillet and Duras in connection with Alain Resnais. No doubt...

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